Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” speaks for itself.
The Country Music Hall of Famer was indeed “country before it was cool.” Mandrell was the first singer to win the CMA’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” awards twice in a row and is now considered a pioneer of Country Music.
Lovingly known as the “Sweetheart of Steel,” Mandrell spent her active years recording, performing, and even acting in several TV shows— such as Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters and Burning Rage.
Her song “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” was released in 1981 as the lead single from the album Barbara Mandrell Live. The song reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and peaked at No. 14 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart. The song was also nominated for the 1981 Single of the Year by both the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards organizations.
She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool
Written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” tells the tale of a singer explaining her relationship with country music as being authentic and part of a long tradition, and not just some craze or, worse, something that’s merely “cool.”
“I was country when country wasn’t cool. I was country from my hat down to my boots. I still act and look the same. What you see, ain’t nothing new. I was country when country wasn’t cool,” the song goes.
Being the first track released from Mandrell’s 1981 “Live” album, the song was recorded by Barbara Mandrell as a “live” performance. But the truth is, the track was recorded in the studio with audience applause digitally added over various sections of the song to fit into the context of the live album. Country legend George Jones was also featured in the song’s chorus but was not officially credited.
“I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” was released during the period of the fast-growing popularity of country music inspired by a dance-focused form of the genre called neocountry that became famous, thanks to the movie Urban Cowboy.
Ever since then, the song has been considered to be one of Mandrell’s signature recordings during her career. It helped her live album be certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and earned her win the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award in 1981.
Twenty-five years later, Reba McEntire – who has been a longtime admirer and close friend of Mandrell – joined forces with Kenny Chesney for a remake of the hit on an album sharing the same title.
Anyway, you can check out this throwback video of Barbara Mandrell in her element, proving that “she was country when country wasn’t cool.”